Holiday Romanvs

Air BnB not as advertised.
Rome. A bucket list item finally chalked off said list after all these years. I won’t bore you with all the photos (there are hundreds) as they mostly contain my family standing next to a useless pile of old rubble. There are a few I am not in however.
Why Rome? Well that goes back over 30 years to my school days where, in my wisdom, I was the only pupil in a school of hundreds who actually chose to do Higher Latin. Chose to. I wasn’t very good at it but in our school when it came to second year you got to choose another language to study or you got to keep going to PE. Given that our PE teacher was a rugby fanatic and I weighed less than your carry on baggage allowance (seriously, I would have had no trouble fitting into the overhead compartment or under the seat in front) then it seemed only logical to take Latin instead. And I loved Latin – it was, at least, madly different from all the other subjects. I’d far rather be learning the best way to the forum instead of trying to figure out what Leiselotte and the rest of Die Familie Rheinhagen were up to. I also had a crazy teacher. Mr Clark aka Blinky. A man for whom the modern world (1983) was deeply unsatisfactory and whose response was just to keep his eyes closed most of the time even when he was talking to you. Seriously, unless he had to move around or write something he just kept his eyes closed and I tested whether they were fully closed or not one time in class. There were only the two of us and he was giving me pelters about how I had completely misunderstood a certain passage – Aeneas was not making a phone call apparently – when he closed his eyes to go off on a rant and I switched seats.
When he opened his eyes again I had ‘blinked’ two seats down. He wasn’t happy. Anyway, I digress. He was a lovely chap really and his enthusiasm for Ancient Rome kinda rubbed off on me. Everyone else remembers Gladiator and the Colosseum but for me it was the forum and the Palatine Hill that I wanted to see.
This is where the Caesars ruled. Where Julius and Augustus and Tiberius and, my favourite, Claudius reigned. If you have not read I, Claudius by Robert Graves incidentally then you should remedy that at once.
I couldn’t wait to wander through their world.
So, of course, we went everywhere else first. That’s the thing about Rome. It’s a nicely sized city. You can walk just about anywhere if you are feeling fit or if you have the time. The entire Metro system has about 20 stops in total and you are usually only about three stops from where you want to be in any case, but despite the small size it is absolutely packed with stuff. You can’t be the eternal city without accumulating some baggage along the way so there are countless museums, monuments, statues and piazzas to be seen in your immediate vicinity without traipsing all the way across town.
Our apartment looked onto the dome of St Peter’s a few hundred metres away. We had left the house at four o’clock in the morning and so we were wandering around St Peter’s square a little before lunch. We’d already paid for a tour the next day and took a half a day just familiarising ourselves with the atmosphere of modern Rome.
And what is there to say that has not been said before? Yes, it’s a modern European place – it has the obligatory statuary and monuments alongside the graffiti and the homelessness. The place is to cry for.
I had already been in Rome for a couple of days when we took the compulsory hop-on hop-off bus tour. I don’t mind saying I cursed when we turned the corner and I saw the ‘wedding cake’ for the first time. The thing is enormous and to give you some idea of scale the guy on the horse in the middle is so big that his hat is taller than I am. And then that night I saw a guy in a wheel chair begging outside the Spagna metro station who had clearly suffered incredible burn damage to his face and body. He should have been in some kind of accommodation but he wasn’t, he was begging to live in a life that had treated him just about as badly as life can. I cursed again. Rome is the city of opposites. Based on an empire that almost invented the concept of being organised it is utterly chaotic. Yes, there are rules and systems but you get the feeling they made them up because they had to and then never bothered with them again. Crossing the road is a matter of trust when you step onto the black and white pedestrian crossing and hope that the cars will stop, but a matter of mistrust when you use an actual crossing. Sure, the countdown might say that you have 3 seconds left to get across the road, but the scooters bearing down on you can’t see the countdown and don’t care anyway. Move.
In a city where space is at a premium and everyone lives on top of each other they have seemingly random areas of wide open space and splendour. And sometimes just wide open spaces…
This thing you cannot see the end of is the Circus Maximus (you’ll remember Charlton Heston charging around here every Easter on BBC2) home of chariot racing and at its height a stadium that could accommodate 250,000 spectators. In Rome it is just left to be.

City Life

There are tiny streets and alleys where the shops are all crammed together as well. They have enormous boulevards that they then make tiny by parking thousands of cars there until they become small and cramped. Speaking of cars. This is Italy, the home of Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati and Lamborghini (other super car makes are available) but they all drive tiny little smart cars because they have made the place unusable for anything else. If you turned up here in a Ford Mondeo they’d just assume you were mad. Or it was part of a funeral or something.
Actually I did see a woman driving a big Range Rover thing so I can only imagine she is living in it or the boot folds out and the back turns into a mobile trattoria where delicious pizza is served by her and her family.

Food

The Italians pride themselves on their food but unlike the French they aren’t actually that good with it. Yes the pizzas are delicious and they make a tomato sauce to die for. But that’s it. Italian ingredients are excellent – Italian cuisine is somewhat limited. I found myself wandering around Rome and in all the time I walked I saw one Chinese restaurant and one Kebab shop. This is a world capital – you’re telling me there’s no demand for an Indian curry? Or a caribbean place or… well, anything except pizza and pasta? I’m not saying a deep fried haggis is the answer but would it kill you to offer a goulash? A german sausage? Perhaps the answer lies in the people. We went out shopping and amidst the shoe shops we found a place selling masques. We love a masque so in we went.
Where we were accosted by a charming Syrian fellow who endeared himself to my French wife in short order. We’ll leave aside the fact that he tried to sell us some catwoman type masque as being good for the ‘sexual attraction’ when our kids were stood right next to us. The rest of it was very illuminating. This chap speaks perfect English and French and Italian and Syrian and heaven knows what else. Why is he in Rome? Well, the war obviously – he had to get out about a year ago and ended up here.
“And do you like it here? Do you feel at home here?”
“Not really. The Italians aren’t anti Syrian particularly but…”
“Yes?”
“Well, they just hate everybody equally”.
Which sums it up to be honest. The place is all smiles for the tourist and that’s just great but you are there to spend money. Every bridge and street has someone happy to see you because you are there to spend money. We ended up with a lot of worthless jewellery (my fault) and some worthless stamps (his fault, money back please) but we still had a totally marvellous time. The scale of the grandeur and the weight of the history are overpowering.

The Other Empire

As stated we were living near St Peter’s and the Vatican City. There are endless photos and videos that I will cut together somewhere else and then drop in a folder so that I can easily access them when my wife moans that we never go anywhere or do anything.
I simply wasn’t ready for the scale of the wealth that the church has. I wasn’t ready for the extent of the art or the reach of the church as an organisation, As we walked towards St Peter’s square for the first time I said.
“This is nun soup here” And my daughter – brought up atheist -promptly asked me why they didn’t have any soup. So we had to start explaining nuns and the church and all that. It isn’t easy. We did the tour of the Vatican museums which is a sprint past centuries of art. You could spend weeks in there and never come close to seeing half of it. The place was so busy we had to detour through the Etruscan wing and they have probably lost more priceless art by just forgetting than we ever owned in the first place. The Vatican is a microcosm of Rome – it is just too much. Here’s a random corridor on the route to the Sistine chapel…
See what I mean? This isn’t the Sistine chapel, this is just going to the Sistine chapel. If I had to sum up Rome that’s how I would do it.
Rome?
It’s just too much. And as a result I am sure that the Romans themselves have become inured to it. They don’t even see it any more.
Daughter’s playground
We were only there a few days and for my youngest daughter this place wasn’t a global icon at all. It was just the place she ran around in after our evening walk and gelato. Truly a city of opposites. I got the perfect visual representation on our last day there…
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